Philosophy 130 – Ethics (Spring 2003)
Thinking About Values journals
[ Students and professors, please read. ]
Journal 1: Question/Answer about Current Stance re: Ethics
1. What constitutes good behavior?
That which does the least harm and the most good to body/mind of any person, including myself, as far as I am able to be aware.
2. What standards do we use to determine if our behavior is acceptable?
Weigh the pros (good) and cons (harm) to each person involved — total good should outweigh total harm.
3. Are there some behaviors that are universally wrong?
Universally — like anytime, anywhere? No, because the context (relative balance of pros/cons) will change from moment to moment, place to place.
4. Should decisions be made for personal reasons? For societal reasons? For professional reasons?
If only one person is involved — decide for personal reasons. If society is involved–decide for the greatest good and least harm for every individual in society. If profession is involved–for all affected by profession. The only reason the decision should only take one person into account, is if only one person is involved — keeping in mind that if you knowingly do harm to yourself, it translates negatively/harmfully into how you interact with others.
5. Is character important?
Yes. Integrity, honesty, loyalty, courage, etcetera.
6. Can behaviors be good for one person but bad for another (e.g. can women and men behave the same way but be judged differently)?
Yes, depending on the context. Ignorance is bliss, they say.
7. Are there some behaviors that are wrong in certain times or places?
Yes, but they don’t necessarily translate into other times or places.
8. Is what we value the same as what we like or dislike?
What we value is what we like, correct. If we dislike it, we consider it less valuable.
9. What does our society value?
Our government happens to be a democracy, our economy happens to be capitalist, we uphold the constitution in the name of freedom — but not every individual agrees we are a pure democracy, not every individual agrees with capitalism, and after 9-11, our personal liberties are at great risk of being taken away, and some have no problem with that, or aren’t even aware of the threat. If you go by the media, we also value things like independence, success, wealth (money, material possessions), power (including fame and priviledge), masculine strength, sex, good looks, fast food, a sense of humor, a sunny disposition, and sensationalism, like being scared out of our wits, on the edge of our seats in suspense, busting a gut laughing, or being wowed by special affects in action flicks– etcetera. I like to see movies like Minority Report, which do not condone vengeance. After 9-11, it became clear to me that the same liberties we give to Americans are not granted to those against America (like ‘innocent until proven guilty’), and to me it is a dangerous double-standard.
10. What do you value?
Family time, online communication in my philo. community, learning different perspectives, fresh air and a big blue sky, coffee…
11. Why do we consider some people better than others? Why do we revere Mother Theresa and Gandhi? Why do we respect athletes and actors?
Because they excell in positive traits that we would like to excell in, but don’t, like selfless service, standing up for a cause, winning for the team, and evoking emotion in others. But I don’t personally think that makes them more important than others — just better than others at what they do.
Journal 2: Definitions
ethics — The investigation of morals, or the theories behind morals. Like we have theoretical physics… theoretical morality is called ‘ethics’. Moral: Children should obey their parents. Ethics: Why should children obey their parents? Why should children obey? Why parents in particular? What would happen if parents obeyed their children? What if we only obey ourselves, and think of commands from others as suggestions? What if we do the opposite of what our conscience suggests — or just ignore it, and follow gut instinct? Is gut instinct not part of conscience? What exactly is conscience? Can we trust it? Etcetera…
morality — rules about behavior/attitudes in society. Examples: The Ten Commandments, the center of the debates against abortion, cloning, death penalty, etcetera, The Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated)… so on and so forth.
values — that which is most or more important to us. “Family values” emphasize the importance of family. When someone says “that girl has no/poor values” they mean “that girl does not value what I value”.
character — Defining traits of a person. If a person is strong, courageous, honest, loyal, etcetera — they have ‘good’ character. If a person is weak, cowardly, deceptive, back-stabbing, etcetera — they have ‘bad’ character. The majority of humans are born with the ability to develop empathy, but it must be “learned”. Some of us are born with a higher or lower natural capability for empathy, and some of us are given less or more effective tools to learn empathy — the same nature/nurture issue applies for other aspects of character.
culture — An interesting thing to note about culture, is that it is hard to define, because people in the same place, with the same ethnicity or race, or the same religion or family may not share all the same ‘habits, wordviews, tastes, and so forth’ which supposedly define a culture (p. 101). I personally think culture is a human construct that can be shared by any human at all, and that the focus should be on each individual’s ‘habits, worldviews, tastes, and so forth’ (which, by the way, may change throughout a person’s life)…although typically it refers to ‘groups’ of people. A tad stereotypicish, if you ask me.
Journal 3: What I found interesting about Chapter 1:
Quoting from ethics text:
p. 10: “A new breed of thinkers, including the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, hold the theory that our moral values do indeed have a strong connection to our emotions, but that doesn’t mean the values or our moral decisions reflecting them can’t be rational. According to this theory, there is a rational element within our emotional life that makes some emotional reactions reasonable and morally relevant, while others may not be…”
p. 13: “If we have no feeling of moral approval or outrage, then do we really care about whether something is morally right or wrong? If we don’t feel that it’s wrong to harm a child, then how is logic going to persuade us?”
p. 15: “Feelings such as disappointment, elation, grief, and even love are all responses to certain situations. They develop according to some inner logic; they don’t strike at random.”
The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics by Nina Rosenstad (publ. McGraw Hill); 2003.